GARDENS OF PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – Daniel Berger was not without flaws. He just kept avoiding major issues, which is something that nearly no one has been able to do at PGA National this week.
As a result, he continues to lead the Honda Classic.
Berger started with a three-shot lead and finished with a five-shot lead after a 1-under 69 put him 18 holes away from winning a tournament just 15 minutes from his home.
Shane Lowry (67), Chris Kirk (71), Sepp Straka (69), and Kurt Kitayama (71), the first-round leader, were all tied for second at 6 under.
On Saturday, only 13 of the 73 players who made the cut shot under par. Nobody went low, and unless Berger begins making a lot of mistakes, someone will have to go low on Sunday to prevent him from winning for the sixth time on the PGA Tour.
Lowry shot the best round of the day, which was only 3 under par.
Lowry remarked, “I’ve driven the ball in play and I’ve managed to putt very well.” “At the start of the week, my putting felt relatively average. As the week progressed, I discovered something.”
He’ll have to look for something else.
Or, to put it another way, hope Berger misplaces something.
“Obviously, you want to go out tomorrow and catch him,” Lowry said, “but I don’t think you can catch anyone on this golf course.” “All you have to do now is perform your job and shoot.”
On Saturday, Andrew Kozan, Curtis Thompson, Billy Horschel, and Kevin Streelman all shot 68s, but in all four cases, it was simply getting to even par for the week and nothing near Berger.
Kitayama said, “It played a lot tougher today.”
Starting with his first tee shot of the day, when he dragged the ball into the left rough, there were clues that Berger would return to the pack. On No. 4, the left rough greeted him, as did a greenside bunker on No. 7.
Each time, he saved par, and on No. 10, he two-putted from 65 feet to keep the card perfect. The one blunder came on the last hole, which was his only bogey of the day.
Kirk was the closest for a while, trailing by only three strokes as he approached the par-4 14th. Berger backed off his putt before rolling in a 5-footer to rescue par yet again after a trip into the trees resulted in a double-bogey.
Berger went for broke at the par-3 15th, the opening of the Bear Trap, a three-hole stretch that traditionally frowns on aggression, with a five-shot advantage. He took aim at the flag, keeping the ball out of the wind and seeing it land 7 feet from the hole.
The center-cut birdie putt at him at 12 under par, six strokes ahead of the nearest competitors at the time.
Perhaps the largest success story of the day was Kozan. He waited 12 hours to play four shots, then fired off 68 more in the next three hours.
Because of the darkness, Kozan called a halt to play on the par-5 18th fairway on Friday night, a prudent decision given that he required par to make the cut. He was at the course by 5:40 a.m. Saturday to warm up after only five hours of sleep, and he commenced play at 6:47. From around 260 yards out, he utilized a pair of short irons to get to the green, then two-putted for the par that allowed him to make his maiden PGA Tour cut.
It was 6:59 p.m. at the time. He teed off in a solitary group for the third round at 7:35 a.m., and at 10:51 a.m., he rolled in a 4-footer for birdie to finish with a third round score of 2 under 68.
“There’s nothing to lose,” Kozan explained.
And there’s a lot to gain.
Kozan’s greatest payday as a pro is $29,333, which he earned for coming second in the Korn Ferry Tour’s qualifying school last year. On Sunday, he may beat that; everyone who finishes alone in 43rd or better at the Honda is guaranteed at least $30,000, and Kozan was tied for 19th.
DIVOTS: In 10 of the previous 15 events at PGA National, the Honda winner has held at least a share of the lead after 54 holes. Brooks Koepka shot a 1-over 71, bringing his week total to 1 over. Aaron Rai’s second shot from the sand on the par-3 15th slid across the green and almost into the lake. If it had, he could have been better off. Rai returned to the bunker to review the sand shot after his ball came to a halt on the rocky ledge above the lake. He needed two more swings to get out of the sand, and he made a triple bogey with an 8-footer.